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Why some businesses refuse Ontario's vaccine passport — and what it could mean for the small business community

"All businesses want is a return to a degree of normal and not to be locked down," local small businesses advocate Michael Wood said.
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Michael Wood in the Byward Market in November 2020. (Photo/Dani-Elle Dubé)

It’s been over two weeks now since the Ontario government made it a requirement to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination at certain businesses and settings, but some continue not to follow the provincial government’s guidelines.

Whether it’s over the disagreement about the vaccines themselves or a feeling of inconvenience with the new system, each business who refuses to enforce the system has their own reason not to do so.

For those who don’t comply with the guidelines, fines in the thousands could be the result. But it’s much bigger than that — the decision to skirt the rules could have bigger implications for the entirety of the business community, small business advocate Michael Wood says.

“The one thing I think everyone is saying is that whatever it’s going to take to not get locked down again, they’re willing to do,” he said. “Even some of the ones that have been most outspoken about the lockdowns and so on, have told me that they’re going to do it because of the fines.”

Referring to a report of a Kingston pub — J.A.K.K. Tuesdays — losing its liquor licence because the establishment had broken pandemic rules.

J.A.K.K. told officials of the AGCO on September 10 that it would not enforce the Reopening Ontario Act, the AGCO confirmed in a September 30 news release.

The agency added that it would move to permanently take away its licence for public safety.

This is just one example of what can happen to a business if they don’t comply, Wood said — and this will continue as long as people practice resistance.

“If you’re a bar and you lose your liquor licence, it’s lights out.”

But those businesses from Ottawa that are not checking proof of vaccination, he said, aren’t actually businesses who need to check passports.

For example, when entering a retail space, people do not need to show proof.

As Wood clarified, proof of vaccination is only required for spaces where you would take your mask off.

“They can take a stance and it won’t affect their business,” he said.” But all businesses want is a return to a degree of normal and not to be locked down.”

And those sentiments can be seen on various social media groups, like the Ontario Businesses Against Health Pass Facebook group, which has almost 142,000 members.

As the page says, it is “a group for people to compile a list of businesses that believe a health passport in Ontario is unconstitutional.”

It also goes on to say, “Your personal health status is irrelevant, and your own personal choice. We make the biggest change with where we decide to spend OUR money. Our rights and freedoms need protecting at any cost. Let us stand together, and stand for a free Canada and support the businesses that share our values!”

But from what Wood can see, a chunk of those outspoken businesses refusing to take part in passport checking, are businesses that don’t have to, according to guidelines.

And those businesses who speak out or refuse vaccine passports, Wood said, they risk seeing a drop in customers.

And this move could be alienating their bigger customer base.

“In order to do anything in this world, you have to appeal to a mass audience — it will have an effect,” he said.

As to what’s behind a business’ decision to forego checking vaccine passports, it is based on a number of things.

On the other hand, Wood explained, other businesses see the vaccination passport as an added cost. Already, businesses are shorstaffed, and giving up someone to stand at the door checking proof of vaccination is another cost they cannot afford.

Another added cost? A QR scanner.

Those mounting costs are what prompted Wood to go to the province’s Ministry of Finance with a proposal, asking the government to provide small businesses with more funding or training.

And that help could be what changes some minds, Wood said.

“I think the middle ground is a little bit of funding. I think if they got a little bit more money to train people, to buy a QR scanner — because the thing is, as a restaurant [employee], you’re probably not going to want to use your own phone to scan as people are coming in. So, they need an independent piece of equipment to scan the QR code. And I think if there was training and clear communication on how long this was actually going to last for, and it kept us out of another lockdown — it just needs to be clearer.”

And with just another two week to go before the province’s QR code system will come into effect, time is running out for that help.

“The only way to get through this is with kindness and patience by both customers and businesses,” Wood Said. “None of this is personal — we all just want to keep people safe and not go through another lockdown again.”